We'll look at the general principles behind social networks, some challenges when using them for marketing, and the most important networks that publishers and authors are likely to use.
How social networks work
There are many social networks but they all share a few basic features.
- Each network provides a simple way for any user to post news items or updates
- Other users on the social network sign up to receive these updates, and to share their own
- The network also provides ways for its users to comment on these items or engage in conversation
- Some news items will get coverage well beyond a user's immediate network when her followers re-post items to their own networks. When this happens in a big way, it's called 'going viral'.
- While social networks let friends connect privately, they also let strangers come together around common interests
Marketers like the potential these networks offer to reach customers through their friends and interests, and to expand their messages to 'friends of friends' — 'word of mouth on steroids' is the term that's often used.
There are three social networks that matter most today. We'll look at each of them in more detail in later sections.
In addition, there are several ‘specialised’ social networks that are dedicated to readers and writers. The biggest — and for many authors, the most important — is Goodreads. We briefly look at them below.
Potential ... and challenges
With this potential, there are challenges. Publishers should keep these in mind as they develop their own social media strategies.
The biggest challenge is that marketers are often unwelcome. People join social networks to connect with friends and like-minded colleagues.
So using them means respectfully joining conversations rather than broadcasting sales messages. Marketers, under pressure to meet sales targets, can easily over-step community boundaries.
It takes time and consistency
You must invest a lot of time and resources nurturing relationships. Social media marketing isn't about a quick-fire, one month campaign. And in spite of this commitment of resources, your networks should be used sparingly for promotions.
Challenging return on investment
This slower, more respectful, less LOUD approach makes social media difficult for many organisations to use — and justify. It leads to concern about its value compared to other promotional choices, and marketers' frequent over-emphasis on attracting large numbers of followers exacerbates this.
Quality or quantity?
Many companies focus heavily on growing their number of followers. Too often, this is because social networks display these figures prominently and which marketer wants his brand or product to appear friendless?
But this can lead to over-investment, often with expensive campaigns that attract thousands of followers only marginally interested in them.
Marketing via social networks can be more successful when serving a smaller group of highly influential and engaged followers. Done well, this will expand your reach far more effectively than drawing in lots of marginal followers.
How publishers and authors can use social networks
In many ways, publishers and authors are more suited to social media than traditional, advertising-driven marketers. In fact, many marketers are scrambling to get to grips with the latest buzzword, 'content marketing', which employs many long-established practices of professional media to attract and engage audiences.
Book publishing has always relied on publicity rather than advertising to spread its messages through media. The ability to nurture respectful relationships and craft stories that will resonate with editors and their audiences is a good match for the skills of successful social marketers.
Here are three key ways to use social media.
#1 Create digital networks
Publishers can use social networks to create their own groups of followers based around their business, authors, or publishing niche. There are several ways to do this.
- These groups often grow around blogs, where the latest posts are also notified through Twitter and Facebook, and bloggers send out links to other snippets they think will be of interest. In fact, social network users expect you to let them connect to you through their chosen network.
- Many successful social networkers don't have their own blogs but excel at curation — finding the internet nuggets in their field of interest and sharing links with followers who value their selections.
- Another approach, especially for Facebook Pages, is to attract and retain followers through incentives such as competitions, promotional offers, free stuff, and insider news and tips.
#2 Create visibility
Even if you don't build your own groups, you can raise your visibility as an active user of social media by commenting and sharing in online forums and groups. These may be large and global but good contributions to discussions are valued and noticed.
#3 Build credentials and direct connections
Social network users notice high quality contributions so it's a great way to build your credentials as an expert or perceptive critic. When you build your credentials, it makes it easier to directly approach influential users, for instance potential reviewers or early readers.
Social networks enable direct one-to-one messaging as well as the more common group sharing. You simply won't get to open these doors unless you're a social media participant yourself.
Beyond the 'big three' social networks
These are just a few of the ways that social media fits into publishers' marketing. We'll look shortly at how publishers and authors can use each of the major social networks — Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn — as part of their digital marketing.
Before we do, however, you might want to briefly detour and look at some of other social media options that might occasionally find a place in your digital marketing mix. Of special — and growing interest — are the reader communities like Goodreads which are drawing book lovers in their millions.
Reader communities: book-focused social networks
For publishers and authors, there is a group of increasingly-important and active social networks dedicated to discussion about books. They’re a treasure trove of book lovers, reader reviews, and book chatter.
Goodreads (goodreads.com) is the ‘800-pound gorilla’ of these reader communities. It’s the biggest by far and has become so important that in many book marketing campaigns, it is a ‘must use’ tool. With more than 40 million members, it’s the size of a large country.
Goodreads attracts many of the most active readers and its reader reviews are among the most influential. For authors, it’s a great place to interact with their readers and they can set up special author pages to increase their profiles. There are several good marketing and paid advertising opportunities which publishers can take advantage of and it’s an excellent source of potential reviewers and early readers.
Goodreads is now owned by Amazon which provides a range of cross-promotional opportunities.
Some other reading and writing-focused communities are:
- Shelfari (shelfari.com) is owned by Amazon. This connection means that there is increasing integration between Shelfari and Amazon.com.
- Librarything (librarything.com) is the oldest of these sites, launched in 2005. It has about 1.5 million members who use the site to catalogue and tag their collections and discuss books. This user data also enhances the catalogues of several hundred libraries around the world.
- Wattpad (wattpad.com) is a little different from the others. It’s a rapidly-growing writer’s community with more than 40 million members (most of whom access it from mobile phones). It’s easy to post samples of your work (or complete books) on the site and can be an effective way to build buzz and get useful feedback from other writers.
As this result from a survey of Goodreads members shows, these communities are influential in helping members to discover new books and authors.
These reader community sites are well aware of their power as marketing vehicles. Each site offers an increasing range of tools and services to help publishers and authors promote to their communities, and you should add some of the more influential reviewers to your own lists and aim to get your ebooks reviewed. Reviews from these social networks often appear in other book and library sites, further extending their reach. For instance, Goodreads data appears on the Kobo ebookstore.
I’d recommend joining at least one of these networks.
Other social networks
There are many more social networks than the three biggest we've highlighted. Some of these may offer opportunities to publishers or authors. Here are three that are candidates:
- Google Plus (https://plus.google.com). Google's entry into the social networking race has got off to a strong start but it's still early days and isn't yet a must-use service for book marketers.
- Pinterest (http://pinterest.com) is the hot new social network, gaining lots of attention and growing rapidly. It's different from the rest because it's a visual social network — you 'pin' pictures of things you like. If you're publishing in a visual space like recipes, fashion, or arts, this might be one to watch.
- YouTube (http://www.youtube.com). The world's biggest video sharing service is also a massive social network and, by the way, the world's second biggest search engine. Publishers are increasingly turning to 'book trailers' and other video content to promote books online.
This isn't a specific social network, it's a general term for a type of application in which users post topics and other users — including a group of super users called moderators — post answers or discuss the topic.
One area that forums have had a huge impact online is in providing technical support and customer service. User-run forums have proved so effective in these areas that some companies are slimming down call centers in favor of boosting the use of online forums. Another popular use of forums is in providing help, tips and news to enthusiasts and special interest groups.
For publishers and authors, adding forums to their websites can be an effective addition to their niche topics. A well-run forum identified with a credible person or business in the field is a magnet for potential readers and doesn't have to take up a lot of your time beyond the start-up phase.
You can create forums without too much technical skill. Here is some of the leading forum software.
- phpBB (phpBB.com) is probably the most widely-used forum (also known as 'bulletin board') software. It's free, open source software with a very big community of users, extensive support and documentation, and has most features you're likely to need.
- bbPress (bbPress.org) is popular forum software for WordPress websites. It's a free download and it comes from the developers behind WordPress. If you want to add a full-blown social network like Facebook to your WordPress-powered site, you can install BuddyPress (BuddyPress.org).
- ProBoards (proboards.com) is a popular hosted forum application — meaning you don't have to download, install and run the software yourself, ProBoards does it for you. It has both free and paid premium accounts.
Find out more about this topic on our Digital Publishing 101 useful resources site.